Tutorial #1622

Reformer Plank Variations

15 min - Tutorial


Courtney Miller teaches a quick Reformer Plank Tutorial. Planks are a great full-body integrative (working the arms, core, legs, and back) exercise that doesn't require a lot of flexion. Courtney challenges you to pick two of your favorite plank variations from this tutorial and incorporate them into your regular workouts.
What You'll Need: Reformer w/Box

About This Video

May 30, 2014
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Hi, I'm Courtney Miller, super happy to be here today. I have a quick little workshop, workout workshop for you. It's all about planking, I love to plank. I, in my own workouts, stay away from a ton of loaded flexion, because believe it or not I do a lot of work at the computer, so I'm kind of in this flex position anyways, but I do wanna strengthen my core. Which is why I love planks.

So it's a full body, integrative exercise. There are so many modifications, variations, and adjustments that make it ideal for most populations. From athletic conditioning, to pre- and post-natal conditioning. There is a variation of plank that you can do for pretty much everybody. So let's do some of them now.

I'm on the reformer. I have mid-bar position, and I have a light spring on. I have one blue spring. I'm gonna start kneeling on the reformer, and what I want you guys to do is as you go through these exercises, think to yourself, how can I sprinkle these into some of my favorite Pilates Anytime classes. You don't have to do the whole workshop with me, but do take some of these exercises into the classes that you love to do.

Heels of the hands onto the foot bar. So one of the things I wanna talk about first, I see this a lot in planking and push ups, is people don't use the intrinsic muscles in the hands enough and they lock out their elbows. So let me show you what happens if I don't use my hands and I lock up my elbows, it's like instant elevation of the scap, which is a bad thing. Your trapezius muscles are kind of like a light switch, so if you want them up and turned on, they're gonna look like that, but if you want them down and turned off (click) like a light switch, you want to set them down the back. In order to do that, soften your elbows, squeeze the foot bar, and really work the fingers, the hands, and the whole arm.

Great, so to get into this position, my hips are gonna come forward. Now in this position, I am in a posterior tilt, so I'm using the fibers of my obliques to pull my pelvis towards my ribs, drawing up and in through my tummy. Inhale and pressing back, we've all done this or some variation of this before. Exhale to pull forward. So this is just a great way to introduce the concept.

This would be a nice time to check in with your body and make sure your elbows are soft, your scapula are anchored. The further you press back, the more challenging this is gonna be. Round two adding a little bit of extension. Inhale to press back, soften those elbows. Exhale thread.

Inhale as you press back. Find the plank position, and then exhale, thoracic and cervical extension. So one of the challenges here is to find the plank, move out of the position, chest lifts, and then move back into your neutral alignment. Slight tweak here. Take the feet and place them on top of the shoulder blocks.

Inhale as you press back. I can't go quite as far, I'm already shaking. Exhale, pull forward. So with the feet up here you're gonna feel right away how you're stabilization is challenged. One more, inhale as you press, and exhale to pull, great job.

So, that's a light spring, lighter is harder. Once you pick the feet up on here the level of difficulty goes up as well. Quick little change, foot bar goes down. So, this is not a traditional plank, but it is that full body integration. I'm only gonna do a couple here.

Heels of the hands go onto the gray platform. I still have the blue spring. See how my knees are quite close to the front. I press the carriage back so there's about three spaces showing, or about six to eight inches. Then I stabilize my body in a four-point kneeling position.

One leg comes back at the head rest, and that leg comes up. Now I can practice keeping the carriage steady here, or if I'm ready, I can begin to add the unilateral challenge. Now the center of my body is engaged as if I'm in a plank position. Sliding my shoulders down the back and finding that stability from the center. I can flex, and extend, and I can open, and I can close.

I'm gonna allow you to try that on the other side, and feel it in your own body, it's quite challenging. The last thing I'm gonna do on this light spring and on my knees is a reverse crunch series. Again this is a great way to really feel the planking principles in your own body. Knees up against the shoulder blocks. Walking the hands forward, the further forward they go, the more challenging the exercise.

The first part of this series is bringing the knees under the hips. Hands under the shoulders. All I'm going to do is flex the spine, and find neutral. Again, here I am in my plank position, and then I deviate out of it, finding that C curve. Once I've mastered this, I can maintain the C curve, exhale pull, and inhale release.

I can incorporate the long neutral into the C curve knee pull. Long neutral, into the C curve. Great job guys. So we see those three exercises are full body integration. Arms, core, everything working.

Let's amp it up a little bit. So from here I'm gonna come off to one side, move the bar to mid position, lock it in. And I'm putting more tension on. I placed a green spring on. Lunge position, so foot goes in line with the reformer foot, opposite knee down.

So here I am in my Eve's lunge. I'm using the foot bar, hands are shoulder width apart. Again, use the muscles in the hands. Pick up the back knee. From my lunge position, I lift and I find my plank.

Now be careful of letting the middle drop. So scoop it all in, take it back into the lunge. I'll do five of these with you. Five. And four, hips are square.

Three. No momentum. Two. And one. I like to go into a single knee stretch series here.

Awesome. So amping up that plank, making it more movement oriented. Let's add on even more. One foot goes back against the shoulder block, the other foot comes forward. Inhale as I press to a hamstring stretch, exhale to come back up.

I'll do three of these. Hips are square, use that bar. From here, press the carriage back, bring the leg back, find your stability. Flex the spine, and extend. Three of each.

Place the foot, and you're ready to repeat the sequence. So scissor lunges into a plank, quite challenging. One more part to this series here. Combining push-ups and scooter. So I've done this in some of my classes.

I've had a lot of comments on how people like how it flows. So here I am, inhale into my long spine position. Long stretch. I can press back and pull forward. Perhaps I'm gonna do about three.

Again, elbows are soft. Once I've finished this part of the exercise, stabilize the spine, and press. Still having all those planking principles in mind. From here the body comes almost all the way forward, and I can go down and up, into my push up position. And then repeat the whole series.

So again, just have fun with it. Think about what can you do before, what can you do after. I'm gonna grab the box for this next series. Lessening the tension down to one blue spring. I'm also gonna move the foot bar, taking the secondary bar so that it stops how close the carriage can come in towards the foot bar.

Using the box here, it perfectly sits in that space. You see? Just make sure that your box is secure before coming on. Again, I brought a light tension here. So this is a nice way to modify a plank for somebody who has a wrist concern.

So maybe they're not supposed to be putting weight-bearing exercises on their wrist. Doesn't mean that they're not strong enough or not able to do a plank, so let's talk about it. Elbows go underneath the shoulders, set the shoulders, scoop the belly and press back. Inhale and exhale. This is a nice variation.

If the client needed to, they could come down rest, and come back up. They could hover. They could pike. Or they could take it into a rotated position. So any time we're on our sides here, shoulder down and back, pull up from the underside.

I could just practice balance. I could pike and release my hips. I could twist while keeping the carriage still. Or I could twist while adding a pike. The nice thing here is I get all the benefits of doing the plank without feeling it in my wrist.

It's quite challenging, it's a great one to do. I'm gonna take the box off for the next series. I'll put the foot bar back to its original setting here. And I'm gonna change to a green spring. Making sure that you're choosing the resistance that's best for you.

When we're doing these planking exercises, your body weight will make the exercise feel easier or harder, so just make sure that the quality of movement's there. This time I'm gonna come onto the reformer, facing towards the risers. One foot goes onto the gray platform, and I press up to find my alignment. Remember, soft elbows, scapula anchored. The other foot comes back, heels together, toes apart, pull the belly in.

This time I'm gonna press forward three times. And three. Separate my heels, one foot steps forward. Now I can take this into a hamstring stretch, or I can take this into a balance. From here, taking the hands down, maybe a little rotation.

And I'm ready to go on the other side. So I've got this great plank exercise. Maybe I don't have the endurance to do ten to twelve of these. So the nice variation here to sort of superset a different muscle group in while keeping that idea of full body integration. Take it down and take your twist.

Great job. From here I'm gonna reduce the tension for this next series. One blue spring on. Walking myself back so I'm in a little squat position onto the gray platform. I'm externally rotated here.

Hands spread, fingertips pushing into the carriage. The closer my hands are to me, the more challenging. I'm gonna be right about here. I nod my chin, lift my hips, scoop the belly. Inhale as I press out, and exhale, flex the spine.

So the important thing here is this articulation, hips, mid-spine, then head. Head, mid-spine, then hips. I can also play here with arm presses. Or push-ups. Whatever feels best for me, or what my clients need.

The last variation I'm going to do here is using the reformer carriage kind of like a mat. So I still have my light tension on. Come down onto my elbows and forearms. I take one foot back, preparing for the plank. From here I take the other foot back, zip up the inner thighs, scoop the belly.

I can press, and release. I can pike, and press, again focusing on using the core, and not dominating through the hip flexors. I can take one leg up and balance. I can pulse. I can even bend in and kick back.

I can dip my hips side to side. Or I can rock on my heels, forward and back. Choosing exercises that you would traditionally do on the mat, but on the carriage is much more challenging because you have this moving surface. I encourage you to incorporate planking into your daily routines. Again, a lot of loaded or heavy tension in a flex position may not be ideal for certain populations.

In a plank position, your body's long, your spine is decompressed. And when I say full body integration, I mean it. Your shoulders, your arms, your back, your core, inner thighs, back of the thighs are all engaged. Remember to superset these planks, so you may not have the endurance to hold yourself up on your wrists for a really long time. So choose an exercise, do a couple planks, find a flow that fatigues a different muscle group, and then go back to your planking series.

Have fun with it. I challenge you to pick two of the variations we did today, and put them into one of your favorite Pilates Anytime classes. Thanks for watching guys. Bye!


4 people like this.
I love planks too! Thanks for the creative variations!
2 people like this.
Thanks for all the great variations of super sets, Courtney!
There are some really great variations here! Thanks Courtney!
Excellent variations for every level, loved it! thank you Courtney
3 people like this.
Thank you so much Courtney, your workouts are so creative and informative. I so appreciate having a Stott Pilates instructor on PA. Keep them coming, I always look for you! Love your work!
1 person likes this.
So much creativity and lightness in your teaching:)
Thank you!
Thanks Courtney! I get so so excited when I see a new video from you and, as always, this did not disappoint...such creative and challenging build ons to the basics! Would love to take a class from you one day:)
1 person likes this.
Awesome tutorial Courtney - Planks are one of my favourite exercises to do on the reformer - loved all of the variations you provided. So enjoy all of your videos, hope to see more soon!
1 person likes this.
Loved it!! Thank you so much for this new variations!!!
3 people like this.
I loved your tutorial Courtney! The variations are so adaptable for so many levels of clients from beginners to advanced.
Thank you so much!
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